April 23, 2014
Watching great baseball fielding is just as good as a home run in my humble opinion. Fielding in baseball, always takes a backseat to the offensive statistics in the glamour category. In Major League Baseball, the importance of pitching and defense has begun to outweigh the teams who bash the ball. As they say, good pitching stops good hitting and good pitching needs good defense. Keeping runners from taking an extra base, turning double plays and throwing runners out who attempt to steal are cornerstones for winning, again, not glamorous, just efficient.
The statisticians in the world have come up with a multitude of formulas to determine who is the best of the best at their position. There is the simple statistic of fielding percentage that just measures errors against opportunities but that still doesn’t tell the story. The eyeball test still works the best and the best I have ever seen in my lifetime were Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Smith. I was lucky enough to see Vizquel in his later years when he was a San Francisco Giant and was still amazing. He had a certain calm to his play and he made the position look easier than it was.
Here are some of my favorite defensive players this year in MLB:
Having a good shortstop is crucial to winning. A shortstop that is agile, quick, has great range and has a Howitzer for an arm is rare. One that has those skills is Andrelton Simmons of the Atlanta Braves. He is has only been in the league a couple years but is fast becoming the best at his position. He was awarded a gold glove and voted as the best defensive player in the National League in 2013.
At catcher, you will not find, still anybody better than Yadier Molina. At 32 years of age, he still has the physical tools to be one of the top catchers in the game. The way he calls a game and handles a pitching staff is not as talked about as much, but note, the St. Louis have consistently been a good pitching team year after year. In addition, a lot baseball fans and experts have taken notice of catcher, Matt Weiters of Baltimore.
The hot corner has its share of defensive standouts and I think Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles is one of the best. He won the Gold Glove at third base in 2013 and AL Platinum Glove award. He is also a player with a short MLB resume, but he has a big upside. Once thought of as a future shortstop, the position he played before coming to the Orioles, but it appears third base will be is home for now. There are those that compare him to Alex Rodriquez because of his large stature. He possesses a rifle for an arm and soft hands to snare the screaming balls coming his way.
Any talk about defense and I like to add a centerfielder. They don’t necessarily need the best arm, but they need to be speedy and know how to take a good angle to the ball. One of best I am seeing is Carlos Gomez of Milwaukee. The highlight reel was enough to convince me, that he has all of the tools to be labeled the one of the best defensive centerfielders.
First basemen usually have the highest fielding percentages among all players. It is a tricky stat because you sometimes are only as good as the quality of throws coming your way. I like to determine with the human eye test. When I see a guy at first base that can snare the balls hit down the line or in the hole between first and second, I take notice. I grew up watching JT Snow at first for the Giants and he was incredible at the foul pop fly heading towards the seats. He looked like a football wide out catching a pass over the shoulder. This year, I like Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gabby Sanchez of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, all rising stars.
Next time you are at baseball game, at any level, notice who are the better defensive players. They are the ones with not only the strong arms, but they also have better instincts to the batted ball. They appear to be in better positions to field and catch. Some of this is natural quickness but sometimes it is because they are better students of the game. They watch how batters adjust their swings, they watch were the ball is pitched and they mentally focus on the ball coming off the bat. You can even see this in a Little League game when some kids are ready and others are blowing bubblegum.